Striatal action-value neurons reconsidered

  1. Lotem Elber-Dorozko  Is a corresponding author
  2. Yonatan Loewenstein
  1. Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel


It is generally believed that during economic decisions, striatal neurons represent the values associated with different actions. This hypothesis is based on studies, in which the activity of striatal neurons was measured while the subject was learning to prefer the more rewarding action. Here we show that these publications are subject to at least one of two critical confounds. First, we show that even weak temporal correlations in the neuronal data may result in an erroneous identification of action-value representations. Second, we show that experiments and analyses designed to dissociate action-value representation from the representation of other decision variables cannot do so. We suggest solutions to identifying action-value representation that are not subject to these confounds. Applying one solution to previously identified action-value neurons in the basal ganglia we fail to detect action-value representations. We conclude that the claim that striatal neurons encode action-values must await new experiments and analyses.

Data availability

The data of the basal ganglia recordings from (Ito and Doya 2009) is available online at and was analyzed with permission from the authors. Motor cortex data (recorded by Oren Peles in Eilon Vaadia's lab) and auditory cortex data (taken from the recordings in (Hershenhoren, Taaseh, Antunes, & Nelken, 2014)) is available at (Elber-Dorozko & Loewenstein 2018). The custom MATLAB scripts used to create simulated neurons and to analyze simulated and recorded neurons are also available at

The following previously published data sets were used

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Lotem Elber-Dorozko

    The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1235-8651
  2. Yonatan Loewenstein

    The Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.


Israel Science Foundation (757/16)

  • Yonatan Loewenstein

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (CRC1080)

  • Yonatan Loewenstein

Gatsby Charitable Foundation

  • Yonatan Loewenstein

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Timothy E Behrens, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Publication history

  1. Received: December 11, 2017
  2. Accepted: May 13, 2018
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: May 31, 2018 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: June 19, 2018 (version 2)


© 2018, Elber-Dorozko & Loewenstein

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Lotem Elber-Dorozko
  2. Yonatan Loewenstein
Striatal action-value neurons reconsidered
eLife 7:e34248.
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